Muggsy Bogues was there when it all started.
It was 1988 and the NBA was adding two new franchises to the mix: the Charlotte Hornets and the Miami Heat. Bogues, a 5-3 point guard out of Wake Forest, did not get protected by the Washington Bullets and went on to be selected by the Hornets with the No. 6 pick in the expansion draft.
He was (and still is) the shortest player to ever make the NBA, and Washington clearly had concerns about how he could produce. But Muggsy was a student of the game and, despite his height, did not back down. The Hornets front office and coaching staff recognized his ability to effectively run a team. He would use his speed to blow by opponents in the open floor and set up teammates with crafty lobs or drop-off dimes; and he was a pest on defense, disrupting guards with his quick hands and high energy. He’s currently 21st all-time in total assists (6,726) and 60th in total steals (1,369).
In ten seasons with the Hornets, Bogues averaged 8.8 points and 8.8 assists per game. He was an essential piece of establishing and building the basketball culture of the city and eventually settled down there following his career.
Now, with his new home set to host All-Star Weekend (Feb. 15-17) for the first time since 1991, Muggsy is reminiscing on his playing days. We caught up with him to discuss all things Charlotte and more:
SLAM: What are your thoughts on Charlotte hosting All-Star?
Muggsy Bogues: The city is looking forward to hosting it. Of course, we were disappointed that we weren’t able to host it in 2017 because of the laws, but through hard work behind the scenes, efforts from the NBA and the Hornets, as well as the governors of the state of North Carolina, we were able to get it done and get this game back to the city of Charlotte.
So we’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be a great opportunity for the fans to kind of engage and mingle with the best players in the world. So there’s going to be a lot of excitement.
SLAM: Do you have a favorite memory from your Hornets’ playing days?
MB: Just how special it was—the city was just so special, so hospitable. I remember our very first game as the Charlotte Hornets playing the Cleveland Cavaliers and we lost by 40 points, but everybody in the arena—the gentlemen had tuxedos on, the ladies had gowns—and as we’re leaving off the floor, the entire arena stood up and gave us a standing ovation. And we knew that was a special time, a special team, a special moment. We won 20 games that season and after it, we had 350,000 folks downtown celebrating in a parade. So we knew it was special.
SLAM: Do you take pride in how you helped to build the basketball identity of the city, especially with a high-profile event like All-Star coming there soon?
MB: Oh yeah, I feel good about exposing our city, exposing what we’re all about, especially when it comes to the game of basketball. How we’ve been able to see it grow and see it move forward. Being in the city of Charlotte, it’s just such a blessing because I was there from the very beginning. We went through so much turmoil with the franchise leaving and then being blessed to get another franchise back. Our fans have been through it and they’ve been very loyal and supportive. And I’m just happy that we’re able to give them an All-Star event, where they get an opportunity to see not only their team, but the best players at the highest level.
SLAM: Dell Curry was one of your Hornets teammates and I know Stephen used to hang around the arena a lot. Would you ever try to give him advice about basketball?
MB: I didn’t have to give Steph any advice—he got enough of that from his dad. But I’ll always have those memories about Steph growing up with my kids and them playing with each other. I had Dell dress up as Barney at one of my son’s birthday parties because the suit was too big for me. And then Steph realized, Hold on, is that dad in that suit? Giving them little airplane rides in the locker room and all that. He just was a great kid. He enjoyed being around the locker room and being around that type of atmosphere, and as you see, he took it and ran with it as far as he could.
SLAM: You’re involved in a lot of youth basketball camps and programs. What’s the biggest piece of advice you give to undersized guards with dreams of playing at a high level?
MB: For one, you got to believe in yourself. You got to believe in yourself and be realistic about what your talent level is. And if [it’s not there], you got to continue to keep working in the gym and getting better. That’s the only way you’re going to get better. It don’t happen in the games. It happens during the times when you’re trying to sharpen up your skills. I always tell the kids: This game—tall or small—the game is a basketball ball. If you have that understanding that this is what you want to do, then you got to put the time and energy and effort into it to make it become true. Because a lot of folks want to discount you and tell you what you should be doing, but as long as you know what you want to do, you’re in control.
SLAM: Were there times during your career when the doubters got to you and if so, how did you overcome that?
MB: I won’t say they got to me, but no one likes to hear negativity about themselves. I was blessed [because] I was dealing with it for a long time and I’ve been accustomed to hearing it, and so it’s in one ear and out the other. I always knew who I was and what I was capable of doing. It was just a matter of going out there and doing it.
SLAM: Beyond having that confidence, what were the key components of your game that allowed you to be successful?
MB: It was the information. The information I was able to obtain as a kid. Learning that point guard position as a smaller kid. How to run your team. How to make guys around you better. At the same time, how to control the tempo, how to have an impact on defense. All of that information allowed me to play the game the right way, [regardless of] if I was 6-0 tall. Because a point guard’s responsibilities are still his responsibilities. They don’t change. You become the extension of the coach and hopefully you can control it and display it as coach sees it. And when you have that understanding from a coach, and that coach has that understanding from you, then that’s when you feel like you’re in a good place.
SLAM: You were in the first Space Jam. What are your thoughts on them doing the sequel?
MB: You hear so much about it, you just wonder what the concept is going to be. We saved the planet, maybe they’re going to destroy the planet? I don’t know who the cast members are—the only thing we’ve heard about is LeBron. It’ll be interesting to see how they tackle this project.
SLAM: What was the vibe on set when you were filming the original?
MB: It was awesome. It was mind-boggling for me. Being on the set, shooting, having fun. I had no idea we would be talking about it today being such an iconic classic movie that was really meant for the entire household. It’s an honor to be part of it.
NBA All-Star Weekend will take place Feb. 15-17 in Charlotte, NC. For more info and event tickets, click here.
Alex Squadron is an Associate Editor at SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @asquad510.
Photos via Getty.